Next time you chuckle at a TV sitcom, thank Moliere. The 17th-century French playwright was the first to make everyday domestic affairs the subject of comedy. He grew up watching the improvisational commedia dell'arte, or street theater. Social airs, fads, courtship, marriage, the generation gap, male and female roles - all these were the stuff of which Moliere wove his humorous chefs-d'oeuvres.
"You have a house, a family and a con man who comes in and stirs everything up and gets in the way of true love. That's the formula we've inherited in all our sitcoms - but nobody knows it's Moliere," says Todd Van Amburgh.
Van Amburgh directs a talented troupe of young actors in a production of Moliere's "The Learned Ladies" ("Les Femmes Savantes"), opening next weekend at Seabury Hall. The modern translation and adaptation by Freyda Thomas brings the action into the 1950s, scattering phrases like "they know beans about (it)" and "he's such a creep!" but still incorporating a "c'est moi" or "je ne sais quois" here and there. The translation also preserves Moliere's lilting and lighthearted rhyme scheme.
Miles Kelsey with Megan Kirton and Ariella Brandon in “The Learned Ladies.”
ERIC ROLPH photo
"A marriage veil? You might as well choose jail!" the prudish Armande (Megan Kirton) scolds her younger sister, Henriette (Scarlett Engle), during a recent rehearsal at Seabury.
Armande, along with her overbearing mother, Philaminte (Tatiana Bradley), and dotty aunt, Belise (Ariella Brandon), are "learned ladies," long before the idea of women's lib was invented. The ladies eschew romance, desiring only to expand their minds with studies of calculus, isotopes and Socrates - and the swoon-inducing poetry of a certain "learned" con-man named Trissotin (Miles Kelsey).
En fait, Philaminte is so enthralled with Trissotin's learnedness that she decides he should marry her youngest daughter, Henriette, much to the dismay of her henpecked husband, Chrysale (Clyde Engle), and Henriette herself, who happens to be in love with Armande's former suitor, Clitandre (Hayden Ezzy).
The mix of addled characters, misunderstandings, running jokes and innuendos hints of a Shakespearean comedy, but Moliere has more "staying power" than the Bard, according to Van Amburgh. "We see more of that (domestic comedy) every night on TV; that has really blossomed while Shakespeare is still Shakespeare," he says.
And how do the young actors like their Moliere so far? "At least you can understand it!" Ezzy jokes. "(Compared to Shakespeare) it's not hard to get."
"It's hilarious!" says Kai Spence, who as Chrysale's brother, Ariste, encourages him to stand up to his overbearing wife.
Seating on three sides will give the play an intimate feel, welcoming the audience into Philaminte's salon with its bookshelves and telescope. Costume designer Marsha Kelly is creating period ensembles topped off with towering beehive wigs, foppish gloves and handkerchiefs - costumes as over-the-top as the characters' language and behavior.
He may have written the script more than 300 years ago, but as long as we engage in the timeless rituals of gender and society, Moliere is much more "us" than we know.
* "The Learned Ladies" opens Friday, Feb. 26, and runs two weekends at the Seabury Hall Performance Studio in Makawao. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, with one matinee at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 7. Tickets are $11 for adults, $9 for senior citizens, and $5 for students; available by calling 573-1257.
The Comedy Hui is adding new musical improv numbers to its hilarious "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"-style comedy, which is based on audience suggestion. The group is working its way around the island with monthly shows that "spread the light of laughter," according to producer and director Amanda Taulere. The next show is at 9:30 tonight at Casanova in Makawao. Tickets are $17.50 at the door ($2.50 off per person for all Facebook Fans).
Baldwin High School's young performers are gearing up for the year's big musical, "Bye Bye Birdie." Linda Carnevale directs a cast of 42 students and 15 crew members in this Tony Award-winning show about a rock 'n' roll star and the girl who's been chosen to give him his last kiss on national TV before he joins the army. Musical direction is by Bob Wills, orchestra direction by Stephen Rodrigues, and choreography by Andre Morissette.
* "Bye Bye Birdie" runs two weekends, March 5 through 14, at Baldwin Auditorium. Showtimes are 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday, March 13. Tickets are $12 for adults, $9 for seniors, $7 for ages 17 and younger; available at the box office 45 minutes before showtime. There will be a "Gala Night All American Dinner" fundraiser on Saturday, March 6, at the Starlight Theatre Caf on campus. The gala includes pre-show entertainment, dinner and door prizes, starting at 5:30 p.m. Gala tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students, $8 for children (age 10 and under); available by calling 984-5656, ext. 315.
Maui OnStage presents "art of social importance" with "To Kill a Mockingbird," opening March 5 at the Historic Iao Theater. The 1960 novel by Harper Lee was based on a true story and stirred up racial questions at a time when black Americans in Alabama still did not have the right to vote. Alexis Dascoulias directs the Mehring siblings, Marley and Zeb, as fictional sister and brother Scout and Jem Finch; and Don Carlson stars as their wise father, Atticus.
* Showtimes are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, through March 21. Tickets are $16 to $18; available at If the Shoe Fits in Wailuku or Lava Java in Kihei, or online at www.mauionstage.com.
Auditions take place this weekend for the Maui Academy of Performing Arts production of "Under Milk Wood." The Dylan Thomas classic about the inhabitants of a small Welsh fishing village will be mounted in the style of a live radio play. Those who audition may read from a script, and no preparation is required. Auditions are from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, or 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, at Steppingstone Playhouse in Queen Ka'ahumanu Center. Rehearsals begin March 8, and the play runs April 16 through 25. To schedule an audition slot, e-mail director Mark Collmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With smiles like sunshine and hands like ripples on the sea, the members of Halau Ke'alaokamaile brought joy to sold-out crowds at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater last weekend. But of course the real star of "Kukahi 2010" was their much-loved kumu Keali'i Reichel. When he asked the crowd in Hawaiian how they were, the enthusiastic response brought a huge smile to his face. "Every year, I ask that question, and every year it gets louder and louder, and that's a maika'i thing!"
Along with the exquisite dancing and music, Reichel talked story about how his halau is shifting the focus from concert to competition. Their successful debut at the Merrie Monarch Festival last year was "one of the most stressful things I went through in a really long time; it's why I have gray hair now!" Reichel joked. " I've been teaching 30 years, and we're still considered green when we go to something like that!"
Which makes the fact that they brought home two awards an even greater honor. The Miss Aloha Hula award went to Reichel's cousin Cherissa Henoheanapuaikawaokele Kane, the first time a Maui dancer has won the title in 30 years. She was featured in several solo dances in Saturday's show, reflecting grace and mana in every movement.
When Reichel slipped off his shoes and came down to dance late in the first half, long hair brushed down his back and eyes sparkling, the audience applauded him warmly.
"Maui no ka 'oi - and it is the 'oi of all the islands, yeah?" he asked. It was indeed a night to be proud of Maui and her talented 'ohana.
The event featured a silent auction to raise funds to return the halau to Merrie Monarch this year. Looks like they'll be heading back to Hilo - someone bid $10,000 for an hour-long private concert with Reichel! No doubt it will be worth every penny.